Top 20 Books, Political Theology in the Last 100 Years

Imagine, many years from now, that scholars look back on the period from 1913-2013 as a time when religion reasserted itself as a source of political theory in the West. Historians would see a century-long turn away from the scientism of the Progressive Era and the confident laïcité of 1905 in France. By this view, imagine, the modernist ‘rite of spring’ in 1913 signaled the crisis of faith in the grand humanist project, even if the ‘drama of atheist humanism’ had not yet reached its bloody climax, and even if its devotees persist into the present time.

What works would be the classics of this century of political theology?

1. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Theology and Social Theory (1990), John Milbank

3. A Theology of Liberation (1971), Gustavo Gutierrez

4. Political Theology (1922), Carl Schmitt

5. The Politics of Jesus (1972), John Howard Yoder

6. Selected Writings (1913-1940), Walter Benjamin

7. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (1957), Ernst Kantorowicz

8. The Crucified God (1973), Jürgen Moltmann

9. Saeculum (1970), R. A. Markus

10. Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), Walter Rauschenbusch

11. Theological Tractates (1925-1937), Erik Peterson

12. After Christendom (1991), Stanley Hauerwas

13. Black Theology and Black Power (1969), James Cone

14. Christ and Culture (1951), H. Richard Niebuhr

15. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), Rene Girard

16. The Desire of the Nations (1999), Oliver O’Donovan

17. Christ, Justice, and Peace (1992), Eberhard Jüngel

18. A Secular Age (2009), Charles Taylor

19. Torture and the Eucharist (1998), William Cavanaugh

20. Homo Sacer (1995), Giorgio Agamben

Missing from this list, of course, are some of the most influential critics of political theology: Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966), Marcel Gauchet’s The Disenchantment of the World (1985), or Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God (2007). But included are internal critiques, from scholars who argue for “secular political theologies”, like Peterson and Markus, who are wary of the reassertion of Christianity as the source of political theory. Also excluded are the obviously important works of Islamic political theology, most infamously Sayyid Qutb’s In the Shade of the Qur’an (1951-1965). Most (but not all!) of the authors I list belong to (quite heterogeneous!) Christian traditions of political theology. I include the Jewish messianism of Walter Benjamin, but not the anthropology of secularism from an Islamic perspective that one finds in Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular (2003). This, however, is because of my sense of a deeper Jewish assimilation into European culture that allows for more “Judeo-Christian” than “Abrahamic” overlap in the Western political theology tradition.


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